National Records of Scotland

Preserving the past, Recording the present, Informing the future

Lone Parent Households

Lone Parent Households

Census Results 1981-2001  
  • Scotland experienced an increase in the proportion of lone parent households from 9.3% of all households in 1981 to 10.5% in 2001.

  • In the same period, England experienced an increase of similar magnitude to Scotland while slightly higher increases in the proportion of lone parent families were observed in Wales and the Republic of Ireland.

  • Northern Ireland remained constant over the 10-year period from 1991 to 2001.

Scotland, England, Wales and the Republic of Ireland all experienced relatively similar rates of change in the proportion of lone parent households over the period 1981 to 2001 (Figure 8) (11 KB PDF)[footnote 1]). Northern Ireland experienced very little change between 1991 and 2001. The graph also shows that, in both 1991 and 2001, Northern Ireland had the highest rate of lone parent families out of the 5 countries examined.

Suggested reasons for increase in lone parent households

The causes of lone-parent households are numerous – for example, the death of one parent, divorce and illegitimacy are all possible contributory reasons. Scotland has the highest rate of teenage pregnancy in Europe and the highest rate of unmarried mothers giving birth (Scottish Government, 2003). Another possible factor in the increase in lone-parent families is the Divorce (Scotland) Act 1976 (and similar legislation elsewhere). It makes the irretrievable breakdown of marriage, established by proving one of five specified facts, all that is required to obtain a divorce (Scottish Government, 2003).

The percentage of male and female lone-parent households in Scotland by the marital status of the parent for the period 1995-1997 is shown in Figure 9 (11 KB PDF). More lone male-parent households in Scotland are a result of divorce than any other factor. The least likely reason for males is being a single (never married) parent. Conversely, the most common reason for lone female-parent households is that of single parent with the least common reason being the death of one parent (One Parent Families Scotland, 2003).

General Overview

In the past, death rates were higher and life expectancy was lower. As a result, lone parent households often arose through widowhood rather than divorce (Clarke & Henwood, 1997; Kennedy & McCormack, 1997). The most significant change in lone parent households now is in the circumstances that create them.


1. 1981 Northen Ireland household composition data was inconsistent with the rest of the UK and Ireland and so is not included in Figure 8 (11 KB PDF).

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